Life & Travels Afloat in our Moody

Townships – a different aspect to South Africa


As the last post in this series, time for a more challenging visit. ‘Township’ refers to a substantial settlement occupied by less well-off African people, reflecting history and enduring poverty of a substantial part of the population.

For the European visitor, to drive past a township with its mix of government brick-built  dwellings and the flimsiest of wood and tin shacks is to generate selective blindness or even fear. Even amongst (‘white’) South Africans, few would have appeared to have visited one. And yet to go on a township tour is to expose oneself to a range of sights and emotions that will question your values. Such a visit to the Knysna township may also not be fully reflective of others in the country, but it serves an important purpose. We were privileged to be guided by Ella from Emzini Tours, a lady that will stay in our minds for a long time. (more about her in shortly).

The shack dwellings have no water, (street standpipes), or sanitation (‘long-drop thunderboxes’ or communal wcs). These are gradually being replaced with basic 1 or 2 bedroom single-storey homes under a government programme. As in any capitalist society, there are those who demonstrate their success with more substantial constructions, veritable palaces amongst the wood, the tin, the concrete blocks, and the wandering cattle and goats.


The shops reflect the reality. Most appear exceptionally basic, with a limited range of goods in widely differing quantities from a single teabag to family packs. The shops may be just 20 ft shipping containers, cheap to get or to rent by the week, but nearby there may appear schools, libraries, and even a new hospital. Churches are to be found in quantity, from those that cater for many to those that hold only a few.

These communities can be in close proximity to town centres and housing that would be very familiar to any European, making for a collision of extremes.

And of the people?

They find their way to these communities by many routes. Some were dispossessed by the inhuman practices of apartheid, forcibly ‘resettled’  for the convenience of others. Others migrate from rural communities, driven by the lack of work and the need to support families. And then there are the migrants, economic or refugees from other countries.

On a lighter note, even in the middle of this township there is a Rastafarian community, blissfully smoking their way through life and worshipping Haille Selassie.

A Local Shop

A Local Shop

The Rastafarian Centre

The Rastafarian Centre

The past still haunts, and the scale of the government’s challenges are enormous, not least being high unemployment. However if you visit the country, (highly recommended), do take the time to step outside of your comfort zone, and take a guided tour to listen to how others live and view the world. It may surprise you!

South Africa is a beautiful country with wonderful people from all cultures. A land of contrasts of which this is one of the most thought-provoking.

One comment on “Townships – a different aspect to South Africa

  1. Pingback: Lessons for us all..? | Footsteps

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This entry was posted on October 31, 2013 by in Intervening Travels.
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